Tuesday, August 12, 2008
When I was a kid, my family would periodically become obsessed with a new type of food. There was no telling what our next obsession would be, but we wouldn't stop making it until something new to experiment with came along. We went through a potato salad phase, a bread pudding period, and even a long, drawn out deviled egg era. Eventually we worked our way through the typical American fare that so fascinated us for years and moved on to more international dishes. Before it was cool to eat scallop or shrimp ceviche, it was just a traditional Peruvian dish introduced to my parents by friends of the family. Most Americans had yet to be introduced to this lovely, acid cooked dish, but we were well on our way to perfecting it. Weekend after weekend we made our way to the fishmonger's in hopes of buying the days freshest fish. Although it's always crucial to use the best fish available, it's most important in this type of preparation, where the fish is not heated, and is cooked only using the acid in lime juice.
We'd always come home with our catch and immediately start juicing limes and slicing onions. Latin cuisine had not yet become popular outside of Mexican food and certainly wasn't something most people made at home, so back then we had to drive out to the closest Latin market to find cilantro and chilies. We were always told to leave the fish marinating overnight, so for a few months during my childhood, Sunday afternoons were filled with fish ceviche and sweet iced tea. This weekend I recreated one of those lazy days after buying some super fresh pollock at the Union Square greenmarket. I came bolting home with the fish, a small bag of ice keeping it fresh in my canvas bag as I melted away on the subway in the suffocating August heat.
When I got home, I did as my parents always did and plopped the fish in the fridge and got to slicing onions, chopping cilantro, and cutting into a few types of chilies. Once that was done, I cut the pollock into chunks and tossed it into a bowl with the onions, chilies and cilantro. After that I juiced 3 limes over the whole mixture (always enough to cover all of the fish) and mixed it in with my hands. A saran wrap cover and an overnight stay in the fridge was all that was needed to finish the dish. It was delicious, just like my childhood, only slightly spicier since I used several chilies from my own chile plant. Ceviche is an excellent dish for entertaining since it requires no actual heat cooking, and pretty much begs to be made a day ahead (you can do it same day, but it really is so much better if the lime juice has a few hours to do its thing). You can serve it like a dip and have guests scoop it up, or do what I do and serve it on individual crunchy, super salty tortilla chips (I made my own). Here's our recipe, and a cute shot of the chilies I used (the plant is still alive!):
1/2 pound boneless, skinless pollock, or other flaky white fish
1/2 large red onion, cut into thin half moons
1 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro
4 small cherry chilies and 1 green pasilla chile, both finely chopped (you can use other chilies if you want a different level of heat)
1/2 tsp fresh black pepper
Juice of 3-4 limes
Combine all ingredients in a bowl, making sure lime juice just covers all of the fish. Marinate overnight (or at least 4 hours) until fish is opaque. Serve with crispy tortillas. Enjoy!